Of all the genres, nothing quite brings the energy and the soul like R&B. While it may be quite an annoying compromise, we’re using R&B as an umbrella to cover over funk, soul, disco and motown, as well as good ol’ Riddim N Blues.
There are not many words in the English language that I can use to aptly describe the amount of human energy and inhuman soul James Brown injected into every damn song he ever released. His instantly recognisable vocal yells and soulful croons put up against the purely finest band you could find — everyone wanted to play with James. Not only that, but he was, in my opinion, music’s greatest ever performer, playing for three hours every show well into his 70s, kicking and splitting like the best of ’em. As the alt boi that I am, most people would expect my answer to the “if you could bring back one musician back from the dead for one more show” to be Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix — but it’s easily James Brown, all the way.
Prince – I mean. Kiss mate. Just, I mean. Kiss. Prince was James Brown’s furry sexy counterpart, and a bonafide, genuine musical genius — a master of most instruments. Another true showman, he defined what funk could and should be.
Funkadelic – George Clinton is funk. He just IS it, in humanoid form. Songs like One Nation Under A Groove will always lay in legend as some of the grooviest music put to wax.
Chic – While many see disco as the chronic tumor on funk’s back, if I were to ever diss Nile Rodgers, I’d feel betrayed by myself. Delivering on funkiness in a whole different way, Rodgers is a one-man hit machine if I’ve ever heard one, and Bernard Edwards turned the bass into the sexiest thing on the damn planet.
Beyoncé – It was hard to find a place to put Queen Bey in the Best Thangs, but R&B is where I’m poppin’ her. The definition of an absolute superstar, and the only one I can really stand, she is just that kind of engineered perfection that I like my megastars to be.
I’m just gonna put it out there, I haven’t been much of an R&B fan for very long at all. I never used to like it when I was younger, but of late I’ve gained a new appreciation for it, although I don’t often listen to it still. However, if there is one R&B artist I do listen to quite regularly, it’s Childish Gambino. Donald Glover is a creative master and an icon, a fantastic musician, writer and actor, probably rugby player too, I wouldn’t be surprised. And yes, basically the only song that makes me pick him is Redbone. Yes, I am a bit of a massive pleb.
The voice that soothes the savage beasts. Every metalhead’s favourite soul singer, Trouble Man is badass enough for all the long hairs and pirates to agree on. Peerless talent is peerless talent. What’s Goin’ On? Let’s Get It On! We need a little wine and some Marvin Gaye.
Macy Gray – To call her a unique voice is like calling Chewbacca hirsute. Macy sings like an alien from the planet music. Give her strings or beats or bass or keys and she’ll tell you what it feels like to be human. You know Macy instantly on other people’s records and I measure many albums against On How Life Is. Most are found wanting.
Stevie Wonder – Little Stevie has had the biggest journey through Motown and megastardom, through those weird, weird 80s and terrible 90s where he lived like a man so famous he only had a small handful of peers and now he moves into legend. He made Superstitious, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing and Higher Ground. I can forgive him his awful 80’s period because Uptight trumps everything.
Mary J Blige – Mary J is cool. Mary J is tough. Mary J is incredibly gifted vocally and Mary J is classy in a world that isn’t quite at her level. No More Drama is a gold standard record. So too were many of the records that contributed to the drama that went before. Her assured delivery and street smarts are what makes this diva so much more than the warblers and shriekers she is compared to.
Sam Cooke – Smooth like butterscotch milkshake, Sam Cooke is one I loved before I knew how big I’d be on music. Cupid and Twisting the Night Away were favourites when I was eight thanks to an 80’s Dennis Quaid sci-fi movie (Inner Space if you were wondering) add in A Change is Gonna Come or perhaps everything else on The Man And His Music and you’ve got yourself some of the finest soul ever recorded.
Stay tuned for more Best Thangs Of All Time!